Nina Simone would have been 84 this week — as such, fans the world over have been celebrating the iconoclast’s deep and dynamic catalog. Incredibly, a new highlight of Simone’s career surfaced late last year via the release of an extremely rare 1969 concert in Germany, the aptly titled A Very Rare Evening. Given a second life via the nascent reissue label Tidal Waves Music, the live document finds Simone at the height of her boundary shattering and awe-inspiring live game. A markedly rich document highlighting her crack rhythm combo (Weldon Irvine on organ, Don Allias on drums, and Gene Perla on bass), as well as a shining example of Simone’s improvisational and vibrant stagecraft.
Although released late last year, this live lp feels especially timely now, on this month, in an increasingly uncertain year. Explosive renditions of “I Ain’t Got No / I Got Life” and The Beatles’ “Revolution” resonate as deeply now as they must have at the sobering third act of the 1960s. Simone’s band plays fast and fierce, organ lines blaze with a funky defiance across the fearlessness of Simone’s testament. Her voice sprightly and resolute, Simone’s message of freedom, equality, and self-worth are as clear in their conviction as ever before. Side 2 finds the band catching absolute fire on an explosive reckoning of Aretha Franklin’s “Save Me.”
The record also finds Simone swooning in spellbinding and tender movements: the slow, delicate sway of “The Other Woman” and a dazzling, sun-kissed rendition of “To Love Somebody” – a song that Simone has made her own time and again. The most striking performance is perhaps Simone’s singular rendering of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today.” A classic paragon of songwriting, Simone stays true to Newman’s outsider folk spirit, and her elegantly dramatic and beat-poetry approach to the material, intertwined with subtly arresting jazz guitar (courtesy of Simone stalwart Al Schackman), result in something wholly unique and utterly Nina. When she quiets things down to sing: “Tin can at my feet / Think I’ll kick it down the street / That’s the way to treat a friend,” you can hear your own heart break, but the baroque piano line and operatic crescendo leaves you feeling that we still live a world where, somewhere, somehow, “human kindness is overflowing.” words / c depasquale